The writing that follows was initially intended to be posted on Keith Saylor's comment wall but ended up too long for that, and so it's going up as a blog post instead. Readers  may want to trace down Keith's full comment (I quote only part of it in this post), which also contains  the original statement that prompted his response. Sorry for the round-about way this thread is presented, but I thought that the Benson ideas that I've quoted in this post are highly relevant not only for this particular exchange but also pertinent to the larger drift of doctrine in the modern Religious Society of Friends, at least within the Liberal meetings.

 Keith,  I was likewise seized by the statement that you worked through and came to realize that "In the Light their is no reflection upon or identity with and through the outward ideologies or principles. There is pure action in the freedom of the unrefracted light within." The statement that prompted your inquiry brought to my mind Lewis Benson's first published work, which is titled "Prophetic Quakerism." Written in 1943, it diagnoses  a deviation from the original prophetic faith into a philosophical idealism, which has so beleaguered our Society in the past century. In an excerpt from "Prophetic Quakerism," Benson describes the difference between the two doctrines of the Inner Light: prophetic and philosophical (italics mine):

 "First, the philosophical interpretation understands the Inner Light to be that innate capacity of human beings to comprehend rational and ethical truth....This view tends to make the concept of 'spirit' in man identical with the concept of 'mind.' The 'mind' or 'soul' of man is the seat of the divine element in man and the essentially divine reality is not external to the soul....This view affirms the inherent spirituality of the human psyche due to the presence of a native rational and ethical principle which is divine....

 Secondly, the prophetic doctrine of the Inner Light understands that man may become completely spiritualized, that is to say, brought into perfect harmony with the will of the Creator God who is spirit. But the agency for this spiritualization is not to be found by an inventory of man's native capacities. Man is made spiritual and godly by a power which operates in man but which is nevertheless not of man. It is always the working of a sovereign will distinct from one's own. Thus there is accessible to man a light which illuminates his moral life, but this life is not present in man as his own psychological possession. It is imparted to man and man has received the promise that it will never be withheld. The condition of the operation of this light within man is his willingness to submit both conscience and reason to this objective and superhuman light. The conception of the Inner Light does not displace human reason, but says Joseph Phipps, it does caution 'against...the setting up human reason above its due place in religion, making it the leader instead of the follower, the teacher instead of the learner, and esteeming it vested with a kind of self-sufficiency, independent of the direction and help of God's Holy Spirit.' Likewise conscience or the 'sense of ought' is a quality of human life but it should not be regarded as autonomous and it cannot lead to the ultimate principles of righteousness unless informed by a higher authority. (The Truth is Christ, "Prophetic Quakerism," pp. 14-15)

 The doctrines of "that of God in every one" and "the power of love and good will to overcome war and hate" are derived from the idealism that originates with the philosophical interpretation of the Inner Light. This doctrine is a tribute to human capacity and thus differs from the prophetic doctrine, which places  man in total dependency on the power of God to inform his understanding of right and wrong, and to gather, govern, and preserve  a people who have Christ as their head: "whose dominion and strength is over all, against whom," says Penington,"the gates of hell cannot prevail."

Benson's piece, written in the middle of the Second World War, when civilization hung precariously in the balance, recognizes the limits of human ability and power to order and preserve the world and the necessity of coming into the knowledge of and obedience to the Will of God, as did the first Friends.   





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Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 23, 2014 at 5:42pm

Hello, Patricia!

Is Lewis Benson's "Prophetic Quakerism" essay included in *The Truth is Christ*?

I think I may have *The Truth is Christ* somewhere.  I could probably retrieve it with some diligent searching.  I would like to read "Prophetic Quakerism*.

I think that Licia Kuenning may have an unpublished manuscript of Lewis's, which I thought was quite good.  I would like to see it get published.  I can't recall the title.

Bill Rushby

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 24, 2014 at 12:45am

Patricia. Thank you for powerful piece. 

"Thus there is accessible to man a light which illuminates his moral life, but this life is not present in man as his own psychological possession."

When the Torch shines bright within conscious and informs conscience, there is salvation. I will spend much time with these words from Benson.

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 11th mo. 24, 2014 at 9:37am

Yes, Bill, Benson's essay "Prophetic Quakerism" is the first essay in the booklet titled The Truth is Christ. There are three more essays in the booklet: "The Religionless Christianity of Geo. Fox," "Called to be the People of God," and "Friends and the Truth." This booklet was one of a series of seven published by New Foundation Fellowship in the United Kingdom, mostly of Benson's work but some of Joe Pickvance's. If you can't locate your copy, you can find another on the new U.S. website for literature

I haven't heard previously about an unpublished manuscript of Benson's in Licia Kuenning's possession, but I'll ask other workers if they know anything of it. I agree it'd be good to have it published. Thanks for mentioning it. 

Comment by Jim Wilson on 11th mo. 24, 2014 at 10:37am

Good Morning Patricia:

I appreciate this post.  It is a distinction that, I think, is difficult for people to engage in or understand.  I would like to add that the idea that there exists in every human being an inner core which is divine is very widespread among New Age teachings.  It is one of the reasons that the New Age is so popular.  Teachers from this New Age perspective tell people that they are, at core, magnificent, unbounded, and some, will even say that you are God. 

There is another source for this idea in our culture at this time and that is the importation of Buddhism and Hinduism into the west.  These traditions from the Indian subcontinent argue that our 'true nature' is the same as that which is ultimate.  For example, 'atman (soul) is Brahman (God)'.  In Buddhist terms, particularly in Mahayana Buddhism the idea is expressed that people have 'Buddha Nature', meaning that they are not actually limited, but already, ultimately, enlightened.  Since this conflicts with our ordinary experience these kinds of teachings undermine what we observe in the world and in ourselves. 

These kinds of analyses appear to be very abstract, which is one of the reasons that people have difficulty engaging with them.  But I think Benson is right, it is a crucial consideration.  From the view of what Benson calls the 'prophetic', human beings are not God, rather they are dependent upon God for the capacity to do good.  The inner light is not a light of a 'true self' or 'Self', rather the inner light is the grace of God who, out of love, ceaselessly offers us guidance.  From this perspective the soul is the capacity of the individual human being to turn to the light and let that light guide them.

Again, this may seem like an abstract distinction, but I believe there are real world consequences.  To pick just one, the view Benson calls 'prophetic' leads to a sense of humility in the presence of the transcendental.  The philosophical view leads to a sense of self-aggrandizement, ego inflation, as one regards one's true self as an instantiation of that which is ultimate. 

Thanks again for taking the time to post these thoughts,

Thy Friend Jim


Comment by Daniel Wilcox on 11th mo. 24, 2014 at 3:38pm

It appears based on history that it isn't an either/or answer--both philosophical idealism and the prophetic often lead to various forms of arrogance.

Consider the early Friends: 
Quaker historian, David Boulton shows in “Militant Seedbeds of Early Quakerism" that, originally, the Quakers strongly supported war, and war of the worst kind ("unkind"). 

George Fox even called on the Puritan warlord Oliver Cromwell to extend the English Civil War into continental Europe!

From “Militant Seedbeds of Early Quakerism:

“Consider this message to Cromwell, signed “George Fox” and dated January 1658, where the Protector is lambasted for not carrying his military conquests into Europe and on to Rome itself—even to the Turkish empire:
“Oliver, hadst thou been faithful and thundered down the deceit, the Hollander had been thy subject and tributary, Germany had given up to have done thy will, and the Spaniard had quivered like a dry leaf wanting the virtue of God, the King of France should have bowed his neck under thee, the Pope should have withered as in winter, the Turk in all his fatness should have smoked, thou shouldst not have stood trifling about small things, but minded the work of the Lord as He began with thee at first … Let thy soldiers go forth… that thou may rock nations as a cradle.”
George Fox

For not heaven’s sakes, even Quakerism’s Margaret Fell said that the English Puritan army was “the Battle-axe in the hand of the Lord.”

And, as Boulton also shows many of the early Quakers actively engaged in the slaughter of the English unCivil War.

Right now I am forcing my way a huge tome on the Civil War; it's extremely horrific and very depressing.

It would seem that about the only thing that saved the early Friends from "arrogance" was the severe persecution and suffering they endured.

While philosophical idealism can often lead to pride, so can the prophetic.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 24, 2014 at 4:13pm

Daniel. I wonder whether the examples you cite reflect the prophet's lapse into philosophic idealism rather than an example of prophetic arrogance. The inward prophetic voice readily dims in the shadow of outward ideological and political identity. Wilbur, also, was a mighty prophet, however, outward pottage often slide between him and the divine.

Certainly it is the case that people traverse the river sometimes closer to one shore than the other. There are also those who leave the shore of philosophic idealism and stand firm on the prophetic shore; "completely spiritualized" as in the Benson quote. While it is not always a case of either/ or; either/or does exist. Many of us know the illumination of Presence in all events and all circumstances. The prophetic is the humility of Presence. Arrogance is conscious and conscience without the inward Light.

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 24, 2014 at 4:13pm

Daniel Wilcox wrote: "Consider the early Friends: 
Quaker historian, David Boulton shows in “Militant Seedbeds of Early Quakerism" that, originally, the Quakers strongly supported war, and war of the worst kind ("unkind"). "

What are David Boulton's credentials as a historian?  I have never before seen him described as such.

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 11th mo. 25, 2014 at 9:47am

Thank you, Jim, for these examples of some prevalent ways in which people today may by-pass the door into the sheepfold, and attempt to climb up some other way (Jn. 10:1). These particular ways were not so common when Benson wrote this piece, but different times have different forms of the evasion that is universal. Substituting idealism for the hearing/obeying relationship, which is needed for prophecy, has real consequences (like the one you mentioned), and Benson spends about one fifth of the essay identifying the consequences for worship, ministry and Christian community life in our Society. 

Keith, grateful for your extricating the thing itself from the persons who strive to embody it. Your image of the two banks of the river brought to mind the Hebrews escaping the Egyptians through the Red Sea. With their prophet as head, the Hebrew body of people escape the arrogance of Pharoah and the destroying force of his army to cross over to the other side to freedom, where the prophet sings his song of praise. 

Thank you, Daniel Wilcox. Although Keith's explanation has weight and maybe applies to this situation, I question what the full text would reveal about Fox's words, as urging Cromwell to war contradicts so much of Fox's counsel for which we do have a full context. The excerpt you provide is given no more context in "Militant Seedbeds...." The date given is 1658, and here's a passage from Fox's Journal from 1659:

some rash foolish spirits, that come sometimes amongst us, were ready to take up arms, but I was moved of the Lord to warn and forbid them, great...commands were offered some of us, but we denied them all, and declared against it...testifying, that our weapons and armour were not carnal, but spiritual. And lest any that come amongst us should be drawn into that snare, it came upon me from the Lord to a caution to all amongst us...keep out of the powers of the earth, that run into wars and fightings...but go from that; such will not have the kingdom....dwell in your own, in the power of the keep your minds up to God, from falling down to the strength of Egypt, or going thither for strength, after ye are come out of it, like the children of Israel, after they were come out of outward Egypt. But dwell in the power of the Lord God, that you may keep over all the powers of the earth...he that goes to help among them the mad unstayed state, and doth not know...him that recompenseth and rewardeth, and lives not in the hand...which vexeth the transgressors, that come to be blind and zealous for they do not know what...and so know the kingdom which hath no end, and fight for that with spiritual weapons, which takes away the occasion of the carnal; and there gather men to war, as many as ye can, and set up as many as ye can with these weapons (Works, 1:389).

Comment by Jim Wilson on 11th mo. 25, 2014 at 11:08am

Good Morning:

William, David Boulton is the author and editor of a number of Quaker focused books and at least one book on modern biblical interpretion.  I don't know much about him beyond what I have read on the web, but he appears to be at least sympathetic to non-theism.  Boulton, for example, is the editor of the book 'Godless for God's Sake'; one of the more depressing modernist books I have read.  I could be wrong, but my tendency is to think of Boulton as a modernist academic type; the type that is inclined to be hypercritical towards anything traditional but give modernist presuppositions a free pass.

David: The passage you quoted is controversial as to its intent and meaning.  In the short work by T. Canby Jones, 'George Fox's attitude Toward War', Jones discusses this at the end of his work.  Jones offers five possible explanations including the following:

". . . Fox was being sarcastic when he wrote this paragraph.  In such a mood, it would be ridiculous to suggest that Fox was really preaching a violent Puritan crusade against Spain, Rome and Islam.'  Jones points out that Fox rarely resorts to sarcasm; but 'rarely' does not mean 'never'.  In other words, Fox was sarcastically, and ironically, suggesting to the Puritan Cromwell a rash and foolish course to shed some light on the rash and foolish course that Cromwell had already taken.  The idea is to extend the logic that Cromwell used to its full extent, and thereby show how ridiculous it is.  Personally, I find this convincing; it is a technique found in a lot of pamphleteering and diatribe.  But unless you pick up on the tone, you miss the point.  It is a point, however, that I think Cromwell would have readily understood.

Regarding your point that some Quakers actively engaged in the use of 'carnal weapons'; this is true.  And it has continued to be true.  In other words, not everyone in the Quaker community lives up to the ideals of the peace witness and testimony.  Those who put aside the peace testimony and engage in carnal warfare have, at that time, abandoned the Quaker Way.  It is understandable; the demand of the peace testimony, particularly at a time of overt war, is a difficult demand.  It is a kind of testing of the individual.

Throughout Quaker history there are those who have not been able to live up to this testimony when the times became difficult.  Recently, Chuck Fager has published two books on the Progressive Quakers and it is instructive to read how easily they put aside their commitments to the peace testimony.  During WW I, for example, some Quakers strongly advocated for supporting 'The President' in his push to enter into that conflict, a conflict that the U.S. could easily have avoided.  Here is a situation where the U.S. was not threatened and had no direct interest in the outcome of a foreign conflict.  Yet even here some Quakers, Progressives in particular, advocated for war.  It is very sad.

Even more troubling are modern Liberal Quakers who have supported some of Obama's military campaigns.  I have personally met Quakers who supportd Obama's attack on Libya to remove Qaddafi.  That is how incredibly weak the peace testimony is among Liberal Quakers.

This issue is one of the reasons that I have been steadily pulled into wanting to connect with Traditional Quakers (usually referred to as 'Conservative Quakers'; I prefer the term traditional because of the political implications of 'conservative' these days).  They seem to be the only group which has consistently adhered to the peace witness and understand that its basis is not a version of the just war theory.

Patrician: Thanks for posting that quote from Fox's Journal; it supports the view that the passage Daniel refers to is likely a sarcastic diatribe.

Best wishes,


Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 25, 2014 at 11:30am

Hello to all!

Jim wrote: "William, David Boulton is the author and editor of a number of Quaker focused books and at least one book on modern biblical interpretion.  I don't know much about him beyond what I have read on the web, but he appears to be at least sympathetic to non-theism.  Boulton, for example, is the editor of the book 'Godless for God's Sake'; one of the more depressing modernist books I have read.  I could be wrong, but my tendency is to think of Boulton as a modernist academic type; the type that is inclined to be hypercritical towards anything traditional but give modernist presuppositions a free pass."

David Boulton was, as I recall, raised among the Plymouth Brethren,  from which fellowship he apostatized.  He is an ardent "non-theist" and, from an intellectual standpoint, more of an ideologue than a dispassionate historian.  (Of course, dispassionate historians are hard to come by, but one should at least try!)

David seems to focus on Gerrard Winstanley, and plays up Winstanley's influence on Friends.  As far as I know, most Quaker historians regard Winstanley as a "Digger" and not as a Friend. 

When one has an axe to grind, it is easy to focus on fringe figures, or even those beyond the fringes, in an attempt to construct an alternative narrative to support one's ideology.  I suspect, but do not know for sure, that that is what we are seeing here.

I would say that David Boulton has taken on a formidable assignment when he attempts to build a positive rationale and a historical justification for Quaker atheism.


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